Monday, July 17, 2006

Coming and Going

The old Ben Casey TV show (1961-1966) used to open with the following narration: "Man, woman, birth, death, infinity." It is with that eternal circle in mind that we present July 17--a day on which many notable folk were born, and on which many others died.

Mandy Smith is 36. Notorious tailhound Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones (believed by one Stones biographer to have bedded over 2,000 different women during his years with the band) started dating Mandy in 1983, when she was 13. He was 47 at the time. They married six years later, and divorced three years after that. Later, Wyman's son dated Smith's mother.

And suddenly I am thinking of the old country song by Lonzo and Oscar, "I'm My Own Grandpa."

Phoebe Snow is 54. To most, she's a one-hit wonder for 1975's "Poetry Man," although she also collaborated with Paul Simon on his 1975 hit "Gone at Last," and sang in Donald Fagen's New York Rock and Soul Revue. You should seek out her 1978 album Against the Grain for fine covers of Paul McCartney's "Every Night" and "The Married Men," first performed by the Roches and also by Bette Midler.

Gale Garnett is 64. Best known for "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," a remarkably modern tale for 1964, in which Gale says she will neither love nor marry her man but will stay with him for a year of fun, and promises him he'll never forget it. Garnett has had a substantial post-music career as an actress and writer in her native New Zealand.

Spencer Davis is either 64, 65, or 68, depending on the source. He's perhaps the most famous example of a group leader who was outshone by one of his sidemen--in Davis' case, Steve Winwood. I'm trying to think of others. There was Harold Melvin, whose Blue Notes were anchored by lead singer Teddy Pendergrass. Can you think of any more?

Vince Guaraldi would be 78, had he not died in 1976. He composed and performed the music for the early Peanuts specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is so cool I may have to play it today.

Isaac Watts would be 332, had he not died in 1748. Watts is responsible for some great Protestant oldies, including "O God Our Help in Ages Past" (the first verse of which I can still remember from hearing it in childhood) and the lyrics to the Christmas carol "Joy to the World," set to a tune by Georg Friedrich Handel.

On this date in 1996, Chas Chandler died at age 57. He saw the music biz from both sides, bassist for the Animals and discoverer of Jimi Hendrix, as well as his manager and until mid-1968, producer. He reportedly urged Hendrix to try songwriting, and his personal library of science-fiction books is said to have inspired Hendrix' interest in cosmic themes.

On this date in 1971, Cliff Edwards, better known as Ukulele Ike, died at age 76. Ike was an enormous star of the 1920s, and I've mentioned him several times on this blog in its history, which is pretty weird, really. And now here he is again.

On this date in 1967, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane died at age 41. What I don't know about jazz dwarfs the little I do know, but I feel pretty safe in saying that Coltrane's influence on the language of jazz is right up there with that of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. Key track: Many. Start with the albums Giant Steps and Blue Train.

On this date in 1959, jazz singer Billie Holiday died at age 44. Her range was only a bit more than an octave, but no one in jazz did more with less. Key track: "Strange Fruit," an anti-lynching song so graphic--and a performance so stark--that it's hard to believe it was ever recorded at all, let alone in 1939.


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